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Bell Orchestre - As Seen Through Windows

Allow these songs to take you anywhere and everywhere all at once.

There is an intentionally detached, distant sound layered throughout Bell Orchestre’s new album ‘As Seen Through Windows’, almost as if you are listening to the band make the music in another room, or seeing it through windows, as the title suggests. The lush, swirling instrumental tracks are meant to convey a remote destination the listener is only just becoming familiar with, hinting at intimacy but never quite granting it. With Arcade Fire members Richard Reed Parry and Sarah Neufeld leading the way, Bell Orchestre are bound to draw interest simply from people wanting to hear anything new from anyone associated with Arcade Fire. But those hoping to get an Arcade Fire side project will be pleasantly surprised to hear a sound and style that is refreshingly unique and boundless, while still managing to subtly suggest the intricacies and emotions of AF’s powerful string and horn arrangements. The record was produced by Tortoise’s John McEntire, whose experienced ear ensured that there will be a considered, leisurely sound to ‘As Seen Through Windows’, with most of the songs on the album stretching well past the six-minute mark, but never sounding protracted or excessive. Every sound on this record fits carefully into the dense sonic puzzle created by the band, who intrinsically fashion these beautifully complex soundscapes out of the ether of the chilly Montreal air.

The listener seems to catch the band already engaged at the start of the record, with a faint echo of drumsticks and the sounds of the group still tuning up, all ushering in the gorgeous, horn-driven ‘Stripes’, written by occasional Arcade Fire french horn player Pietro Amato. The all-too-brief piece serves as more of a dulcet introduction to the album, and leads nicely into the more expansive ‘Elephants’, which features brassy wails reminiscent of elephant calls at the start of the track, before giving way to a more melodic, staccato string arrangement. At nearly nine minutes, the track certainly has plenty of room to breathe, and explores many different euphonic orchestrations and time changes while still maintaining the plaintive soul revealed at the start of the song. It’s a luxuriant piece of music, and certainly can take the listener somewhere idyllic if you surrender to the song. The playfully titled ‘Icicles/Bicycles’ belies the tragic melody of the song, which evokes the bleak dreariness of winter, complete with the cold detachment of the music involved. But at the three minute mark the song exuberantly gives way to the promise of spring, when the possibility of riding bicycles returns. It’s a glorious transition, and is an uplifting highlight of the record.

The band then covers ‘Bucephalus Bouncing Ball’, by Aphex Twin (a Bell Orchestre live staple for some time now), which is a tremendous undertaking for any band, much less an orchestral one. But the group gives the song a spirit that is entirely animated and noble, while still maintaining the utter sonic mayhem of the original. It’s a wild song that really builds to a triumphant, exalted finish, and puts the spotlight squarely on a group of extremely talented musicians who never once seemed to be in over their heads while tackling this complicated track. The record downshifts a bit with the rich, leisurely tones of ‘As Seen Through Windows’, patiently creating a wistful mood while never rushing the melody, which is slowly revealed after a lengthy introduction. There is a tension and a tenor to this song that is genuine and tangible, and when the angelic vocal chorus arrives at the end of the track it provides a feeling of having arrived at somewhere quite heavenly.

‘The Gaze’ is a high-octane romp, especially when compared to the slow-building simmer of the other songs, and is over in a flash, giving way to the Charles Mingus-like funk of ‘Dark Lights’. It’s a haunting, brooding piece that brings a bit of calm to the record, especially after the breakneck pace of ‘The Gaze’. It also sets a conclusive mood that is echoed by album closer ‘Air Lines/Land Lines’, which, at nearly 12 minutes long is the longest song on the record, and is a thoroughly expansive piece that explores many temporal shifts in both timbre and tone. Again, its pacing is deliberate and unhurried, and the song takes a while to reveal it’s essence. But when the mighty horns kick in at the 7 minute mark, the song truly begins to soar, ending the album on a lofty, jubilant note.

While many listeners might come to Bell Orchestre simply because they are curious about the Arcade Fire connection, hopefully they will ultimately be won over by these gifted and proficient musicians who can deftly craft a song that is filled with equal parts tension and passion. These songs can truly take the listener on a transformative odyssey of sound and scope, replete with exalted highs and somber lows. With no lyrics available to provide additional meaning to these melodies, the listener is able to construct their own ideas about where these songs can go, and that freedom, combined with the lush, inventive arrangements of the band, allow these songs to take you anywhere and everywhere all at once.

Tags: Bell Orchestre, Reviews, Album Reviews

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